In high school, I worked as a kitchen aide in a nearby rest home.  The home was a beautiful Victorian, formerly owned by a prominent business man.  Throughout renovations to accommodate the elderly, the façade pretty much remained the same: three stories with steep roof pitches, an attention-grabbing turret and a few new dormers.  The porches were large with hand-turned posts. The decorative railings and ornate gable trim gave the home an Edwardian look and feel.   The home was on a quiet street lined with elms which shaded the porches on sunny days.

My main duties seemed quite simple enough: delivering and picking up supper trays for the residents and taking care of washing dishes and tidying the kitchen when everyone was finished eating.  Lights-out was early, around seven-thirty.   I had to work quickly to get everything done by seven, at the latest.  Often residents would ask for help in getting comfortable with their little tray tables – or want to talk about their families – or wonder who they were and how they got there.

Sadly, the most asked question was, “Can you take me home?”  For me, a happy-go-lucky 16-year-old whose biggest worry was what to wear the next day, I was often humbled by their requests.  Our conversations were a lesson in the human condition.

My supervisor’s name was Rose.  She spoke softly with a hint of an Irish brogue. She was a sweet person. I admired her and thought she was very pretty, like one of those 1940s movie stars.  She was compassionate, patient and understanding with the elderly residents and especially with me, her teen charge.  Her listening and encouragement skills made her a super human being.

One fall evening, as the air chilled and a full moon cast shadows over the old Victorian porch, I could hear someone sobbing in the darkness.  I could barely see the silhouette of a thin figure rocking back and forth in one of the wicker chairs. The hushed sobs were like a cadence keeping time with the creaking of the chair.  I moved closer.  It was Rose.

I sat on the porch next to her.  She told me her story:

“My Jimmy,” she began though her tears, “died 10 years ago of Leukemia. I miss him so much.  He would be 30 now — and he was my only child.”

“I’m so sorry, Rose,” I said.  “I didn’t know….”

She reached under her shawl and handed me a picture of her Jimmy, blond and very handsome, a high school portrait of a fine young man etched in a different time and place, never to grow old.

I hugged Rose as we shared a moment of silence for Jimmy’s loss and her broken heart.  I knew I would never forget her or the tragic circumstances of her life.  I could only imagine how heavy her heart was, and how lonely she must be for her only child.

I was amazed at how cheerful Rose was in spite of her deep pain.  Somehow she managed to move on and help others in life – which eventually helped her with her own healing process.  She told me that faith, hope and the belief that she would someday be reunited with her son helped her to hold on.

At that treasured moment with Rose, I stepped out of my girlhood and became an adult; I would never see anything the same way again. But how could I know then that 23 years later, I would lose my son and our moment together would be like her hand reaching across time to comfort me. Thank you, Rose, I know you are with your Jimmy now.

Tags: ,

Yvonne Lancaster

Born in Worcester, MA, Yvonne is a former newspaper columnist and is the recipient of numerous writing awards from United Press International, Massachusetts Press Association and New England Press Association for her column From the Heart. Currently, she writes short stories, poetry and is a still life painter. She is co-author of Every Step of the Way: How Four Mother’s Coped with Child Loss (2006) and From the Heart, Sketches from Life (1985). She was named Woman of the Year by the Business and Professional Women of America. She is currently working on her first novel. Her website is

More Articles Written by Yvonne